David Wins, Goliath Consults Attorney (Update)

While most Americans spent their time online Thursday arguing over dress color, or watching Llamas on the Lam, the FCC pulled the trigger on new net neutrality rules, designed to maintain equality among all content providers on the Internet.

As expected, the vote fell along party lines. Immediately, the big internet service providers (ISPs) and many government officials condemned the new rules, threatening both legal and legislative challenges, some before the vote was even taken.

At least for now, by a narrow 3-2 vote, all of our websites will continue to be treated equally by services providers; our content will not be slowed down or sped up according to any sort of tiered delivery. Furthermore, ISPs will now be classified as public utilities, much like phone companies, and will be subject to regulations to ensure that all consumers have equal access to their services.

Although not receiving as much attention as net neutrality, the FCC also ruled to lift bans and restrictions which inhibit local municipalities from building their own broadband networks, previously allowing only private cable companies to provide internet access. This ruling gives consumers a choice of service providers for their internet, something many Americans do not currently have.

This victory is historic for net neutrality activists, content providers and tech influencers, whose sustained and vocal protest was actually heard over arguably one of the most powerful and wealthy lobbying interests in America today. Said Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, in celebrating the FCC’s decision, “It goes a lot further than net neutrality. Title II regulation means oversight of bad behavior.”

Critics of the ruling were quick to point out the FCC has a habit of being over regulatory, which could hurt innovation and ultimately lead to higher prices for consumers. Arizona Senator John McCain tweeted immediately after the ruling, “This is a matter for Congress to carefully consider and correct.”

For now, we all get to keep our websites in the fast lane on the information super-highway. But keep an eye on those highway alert signs, as this is just one battle in what could end up being a very long war for control of the Internet.

Paid Prioritization; or How the Goliaths are Trying to Stick it to the Davids

At the end of this month, Washington will be making huge news, affecting every small business.

Net Neutrality Effects Us All

Net Neutrality

On February 4th, Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC, announced what some found to be a stunning policy reversal on open internet. Wheeler let it be known that the FCC will be basing its soon to be announced net neutrality rules for Internet service providers (ISPs) on Title II of the Communication Act, reclassifying Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as utilities, like power companies and telecommunication providers. These newly proposed regulations would apply to both wired and wireless ISPs.  Small businesses and their websites will be directly impacted if the FCC decides to end net neutrality.

Net neutrality means that all websites on the internet are treated equally. If net neutrality were to end, some websites would be able to be delivered at faster speeds, leaving those of us who cannot pay more for additional speed in the dust. It’s also likely that the cost of paid advertising or even posting on social websites will increase, as the Facebooks and Twitters will pass down the higher fees they are paying to us. In the simplest terms, ending net neutrality will make it more expensive for everyone to be found on the Internet.  This is paid prioritization.

How did we get here?

The issue of net neutrality isn’t new. There have been grumblings on both sides of the issue since 2002 when the FCC classified cable modem service as an “information service,” and not a common carrier. Escaping the common carrier classification has protected ISPs from most FCC regulation, particularly in the area of paid prioritization. The belief was that unencumbered growth and investment would give Internet consumers a better product with more competitive pricing. In 2007, wireless broadband access was classified in the same way.

The common carrier rules in Title II are from 1934. They were originally meant to oversee industries that transported goods to the public, such as rail and freight companies as well as public utilities. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 extended the original Title II provisions to telecommunication aolcompanies. In 1996, the 20 million Americans who visited the Internet mostly used Netscape, via dial up, to spend the bulk of their 30 minutes a month reading their AOL mail.  These folks are now but a tiny fraction of the 245 million Americans who hate the 3 seconds it takes to get on Google and who spend an average of nearly 30 hours a month online, some of them reading their AOL mail (there are still over 2 million people who subscribe to AOL. Wha’?!)

ISPs have been operating under the “Open Internet” rules since 2010, rules meant to stop ISPs from forcing content providers to pay to play on their networks. Verizon filed a lawsuit to block these rules. In January of 2014, a federal appeals court ruling found in favor of Verizon’s argument against being treated as an old timey telephone network, but this ruling also cleared a huge path for the FCC to write new rules regarding the Internet. President Obama also came out in favor of maintaining an open Internet.

What does this mean to ME? 

If this change happens, it means that you are likely to start paying for things on the internet that you now receive for free, because the cost of doing business on the internet has increased for those businesses. It also means that if you have a website for your business, it could decrease traffic to your website.

Visualize the Internet as a two-lane highway, with a slow lane and a fast lane. The fast lane is a toll lane.

Those with lots of change in their cup holders,content providers like Netflix and Facebook, may pay to have their content streamed faster. Those with a couple of fuzzy pennies and a cough drop in their glove box, sites like Cats that Look Like Hitler and Bees Bees Bees , or YOU with your small business and small business  website are going to have to stay in the slow lane or come up with a LOT more extra change.

Who is deciding this Neutrality Thing?

Federal Communications Commission

This case for and against net neutrality has made for some strange bedfellows. On the pro-neutrality side, you’ll find Twitter and Google, teaming up with the Parents Television Council and the hacker group Anonymous. You’ll also find the 4 million Americans who crashed the FCC’s website during the public comment period, due in no small part to John Oliver (MUST WATCH, especially if you have a thing for dingoes!) On the let’s get rid of net neutrality side, the big ISPs (Verizon, AT&T, Comcast,) join hands with civil rights groups such as the NAACP and  the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council. They can also find at least one FCC Commissioner in their corner, Ajit Pai (former Verizon lawyer) who just came out against regulations on Feb 10th.  In the truest definition of neutral, tech-giant Apple has publically neither come out for or against open internet.

The FCC is voting on February 26th. One thing is certain; the issue of net neutrality isn’t going to go away and those of us without Washington lobbyists need to pay attention now or we will literally be paying a lot more to be found along the high speed information highway.

SEE UPDATE ON FCC VOTE HERE

The Password is PASSWORD

                     Highlights from the last few months in cyber-chaos

  • April, 2014 – The “Heartbleed Bug” strikes, affecting as many as 500,000 websites.
  • November, 2014 – Sony Pictures Entertainment hacked by person/persons unknown; leads to a complete and total meltdown in Hollywood,  forcing people in the “biz” to actually pick up a phone and talk to their cubicle mate and for the rest of us to stream a bro-stick comedy over Christmas that we all probably would have been better off waiting for on Netflix.
  • December, 2014 – North Korea’s Internet service undergoes a “DDOS attack” (distributed denial of-service) by person/persons unknown.
  • January, 2015 – US Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts hacked by Islamic State sympathizers
  • Retailers such as Target, Neimann Marcus, Michaels, Aaron Brothers, PF Changs, UPS, Home Depot, Chik-Fil-A – ALL HACKED!!

A recent study found that 13.1 million U.S. adults are victims of fraud, with a total somewhere in the $18 billion range of fraudulent activity accounted for annually.  Earlier this month, President Obama proposed legislation that would encourage companies and government agencies to share information about security threats and vulnerabilities with each other.

Remember when you got that email from your bank, your social media website, your email server to change your password in the wake of Heartbleed. Did you actually do it? A Pew research study last year found that only 61% of those who knew about Heartbleed changed their passwords.

Just how lazy are we?

 A survey from 2012 by Research Now for CSID on password habits among American consumers found:

  • 61% of us reuse passwords across multiple websites.
  • 54% of us have 5 or fewer passwords for all of our internet usage.
  • 44% of us change our passwords once a year or less.
  • 89% of us feel secure with our current passwords and security habits.
  • 21% of us have had at least one online account compromised.

Splashdata’s annual list of most commonly used passwords found that “password” had been supplanted by the surely uncrackable“ 123456” as the most popular password of 2013.

 So what kind of passwords should we be using? 

The latest and greatest recommendations from cyber experts, including Blizzard’s own Hosting Manager, Tish Lockard, agree on the following guidelines for creating strong passwords:

  • A strong password should contain AT THE VERY LEAST 8 characters, combining upper and lower case letters, numbers, punctuation marks and symbols; there should be no inclusion of words found in the dictionary or the names of your friends and family.
  • Never use easy to discover dates like birthdays or anniversaries; you’d be surprised what is clearly visible on our personal and business social media pages these days.
  • You should have a unique password for all of your important accounts.
  • You should change your passwords every 90 days and not reuse them for different sites.

There are password generating sites that will create strong passwords for you. Tish says, “Can’t think of a good password? There are tools out there, such strongpasswordgenerator.com that will cook up a good one for you.  You can even decide the length of your password and what type of characters to use.  I use this Every. Single. Day.” Hear that? Every single day! I am listening Tish!  Some others generators  are random.org and freepasswordgenerator.com.

  How the B!33P am I supposed to remember that gobbledygook?

cyber security, heartbleed, passwords

Keep your Hello Kitty in a secure location, NOT near your computer!

How are you supposed to remember these nonsensical passwords? I know I have  been  loath to use passwords like those described above because there is no way I  am ever  going to remember them. Most security experts recommend the use of a password manager such as Dashlane.com, LastPass.com or 1Password.com which have apps that can go with you from your computer, phone and tablet. YES, you will have to have a password  for these heavily  encrypted secure sites, but if you can’t remember ONE goofy  password, well, maybe this  World Wide Web thing just isn’t your bag.

DO NOT store your passwords in a public cloud, in a Google doc, in emails that  can be  hacked, on your phone’s notepad app or maybe not even in that little spiral  Hello Kitty  notebook that you carry around with you everywhere unless you have really bad  handwriting.

According to Tish, “If everyone could make these criteria a priority and truly commit to changing their passwords regularly, there would be a lot less chaos in  the world. Well, ok, chaos caused by hackers, anyway.” If we listen to Tish, at  least we all can do a little something about this cyber chaos. The hacker free-chaos, Tish and I will endeavor to deal with that another time.

Whatever method you decide upon to have truly secure passwords, remain ever vigilant as you cruise along the world-wide-web. There are hackers around every bend and it’s up to you to keep an eye on your online accounts. And don’t forget that old adage, if you don’t have something nice to say in an email about someone, maybe just jot it down in your Hello Kitty notebook.

Why the Miley Thing Mattered

Miley during the VMA's

Miley Cyrus

I think Miley Cyrus taught us all a valuable lesson on Monday. Your eyes aren’t fooling you. You read that right.

Miley Cyrus lit up the social world with her antics on MTV’s Video Music Awards. When CNN.com led their news with the Miley story on Tuesday (a day when a new war is on the brink, fires are out of control and more) some questioned CNN’s judgment of newsworthiness. Meredith Artley, Managing Editor of CNN.com, explained the decision in simplistic fashion and her reasoning aligns perfectly with what we tell our clients about their posts, contents, and traffic drivers.

Simply put, Artley explained that we as media consumers don’t click on stories about fires and wars. We do click on stories about our celebrities though – especially when there is a picture of Hannah Montana in lingerie. In order to get the click on the web, you have to get the reader’s attention. It doesn’t have to be risqué like the Miley thing, but it should be valuable. For instance, if you want to get people to spend more time on your website, you need to provide content for them to navigate through.

In the news world, the main goal is just to get people – and it doesn’t matter who – to spend time on a website and get you to view a bunch of pages so they can sell advertising. To advertisers, each set of eyeballs is another cheeseburger, pair of shoes, car, etc. In general, any traffic is good traffic in the retail world. All this traffic is driven by:

Content, oh content! We’re not saying to post photos of scantily clad women all throughout your website. That’ll get you traffic, but it won’t be the kind you want. Those visitors aren’t interested in booking a room or a tour, they’re interested in skin. You need to have relevant content about things to do during a stay, tour information, neighborhood information, descriptions of the area, places to eat, where to rent a boat or skis, or a service you’re providing your guests that your competitors are not. Spend some time to make your content more interesting than your competitors. That content will get people to spend time on your website.

When people spend time on your site, people spend money on your site. That’s a proven fact and that’s why McDonald’s and Nike are what they are and why they don’t care if the content is about Miley (or Britney or Bieber or Boo Boo…). They care about getting eyes on their advertising – and you should too. Your job is much harder because you need to make sure those eyes are interested in your product, but the right content will get you the eyeballs.

See, now you can’t say Miley hasn’t taught you anything.

Timeline of TripAdvisor in the News for last 12 months

Read a  summary timeline of TripAdvisor in the news during the last 12 months with links to articles with more details:

10/28/11 Hoteliers and restaurateurs anxious to sue TripAdvisor in the U.S. over travelers’ disparaging reviews may have to rethink their strategy following a legal decision involving Yelp. Read More

10/20/11 TripAdvisor gets sued for 10 million after naming hotel the “dirtiest hotel” in the country.  The Grand Hotel, in Pigeon Forge, was ranked the dirtiest hotel in America and now its owner is going after TripAdvisor.  Read More.  Also read: Does TripAdvisor Play Dirty with Hotel Reviews? in USA Today.

10/20/11 TripAdvisor is seeking verification from a consumer after discovering a potentially false review.  The Howarth House (a hotel in the UK)  brought brought the review to TripAdvisors attention. Read More

10/4/11 Trip Advisor punishes hotel for writing its own reviews, and for writing a negative review of a competitors.  The hotel now has the “red badge” on its listing at TripAdvisor and denies wirting fraudulent reviews. Read More

9/27/11 TripAdvisor now emphasizing Traveler photos (along with reviews).  With over 8 million traveler’s photos on TripAdvisor, your guests can now shape public opinion of you not just by writing about your, but by also sharing photos.  This is a natura; extension of TripAdvisor’s user-generated content.  Read More

9/12/11 TripAdvisor waters down its trustworthiness when it removes “Reviews You Can Trust” and changes to “Reviews from our Community” Read More Read more

Google Plus for Business – First Glance

The early iterations of Google Plus are interesting to watch, but Google Plus is still only a curiosity from a business standpoint.  Not only is there not a business offering, Google has warned businesses not to setup a Google+ account for your business.

Officially, Blizzard recommends you wait a bit longer on Google+… but read on for more specific instructions.

That said, it is easy to imagine how a business could use the existing functionality to build a business page and create a circle of “friends” and clients to communicate with.  Right off the bat the Hangouts feature is a promising business tool.  Blizzard tested Hangouts this morning with a video conference call and it worked great.  It was an easy tool for a bunch of Blizzard employees and clients to get together at an appointed time and have a discussion.  Hangouts allowed just audio or audio + video.  Additionally, any user can share their screen.  Hangouts is limited to 10 people AND the organizer of the conference can’t control it. In this sense, GoToMeeting is a much better option for a more push-type presentation.  Here is a short video from Google:

We recommend that you:

  1. Get a GooglePlus (or Google+ if you prefer, I use them interchangeably) account for your personal business just to acquaint yourself with how it works.  Read Google + for Newbies if you want some great tips.
  2. Try the “Hangout” feature to see if you like it for business meetings with remote colleagues.
  3. Add the +1 button to your website, parallel to the “LIKE” button so early +1 users can start using it. Click here for directions on adding the +1 button to your website.
  4. Watch for the Google Plus business offering.

Google has released a first-glance at its new Google Plus Business Page with a demo by Ford Motors:

Hopefully, pages like this will be made available to all business soon!  Of course, it will be one more thing your social media and SEO marketing team will have to deal with. Sigh.

 

Add Guest Review App to Your Facebook Page Easily

Learn how to quickly and easily add a guest review app to your Facebook Page.  This is a short 4 step process that will only take you about 15 seconds.

The benefit to having a quick and easy app on your Facebook page is obvious:

  1. Consumers like to read reviews in order to evaluate you.
  2. Your consumer is increasingly using Facebook
  3. You are trying to interact with your guest on Facebook and this is a natural way to do so.
  4. This allows you to take some ownership of your own reviews and diversify from some of the more dominant review websites like Tripadvisor or Flipkey (for vacation rentals)

Visit our Facebook How-To page for the easy instructions. Naturally, you will have to like us before we “reveal” the easy instructions to you.

It will look like this when you are done:

Vote for Shoes, Win a Ball!

It’s time for new shoes!

During past events we have rocked Chucks in Neon Orange, Classic Bright Red, and Hot Pink; and now it’s time for a new color.

Vote for which color you think we should wear during the Eastern and Western VRMA Seminars and you could win a Blizzard Fit Ball!

Here is the fine print for this fine survey:

  • Voting ends at 2:00 pm Mountain Time on Friday, March 18th.
  • If you would like the opportunity to win the fit ball, include your email address at the end of the survey.
  • The winner will be selected at random. By “random” I mean that someone at our office will pick a number, and who ever submitted their vote in that place will win.
  • Getting fit from use of this fit ball is not guaranteed.

Vote now:

Discover How and Why Location Based Services are Being Used in Marketing

Is it a just a game fad or a great loyalty marketing?

Some innovative marketers are turning to location based internet marketing and using it to track and reward their loyal patron’s visits to their establishment through a growing number of mobile resources.

There are a number of applications that provide information and/or allow users to “checkin” (register) their visits to almost any location based on GPS features in their mobile devices.  Some of the applications reward the user with awards and badges and sometimes the user can receive free or discounted rewards from participating establishments.

The number of users is growing but its usefulness is still controversial. Read more